To experience a full explosion of Christmas spirit, take the R or D train out to Brooklyn's Dyker Heights neighborhood, which has become an international destination as residents try to outdo each other with over-the-top light displays on their homes. NYC is essentially several Christmas towns rolled into one major holiday destination.
Check out our list of the 10 Must-Do Holiday and Christmas Events in NYC.
Disney’s version of Christmas is as grand as ever. Cinderella’s castle is all decked out with holiday-themed castle projections, an international smorgasbord of holiday traditions abound at Epcot, and For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-a-Long Celebration takes place at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Fireworks, live entertainment, parades, and rides make this Florida getaway one of the best Christmas towns in the US. Explore more of Orlando for Nutcracker shows, more holidays lights, and seasonal festivals.
RELATED: 101 Christmas Activities for Kids: Christmas Crafts, Christmas Decorations, and More
Philadelphia has lights, skating at Blue Cross RiverRink, Santa, and an authentic Christmas market. Photo by Danielle Smith
Philly is abuzz with family festivities in December, making it one of the best places to go for Christmas. Check out Dilworth Park’s ice rink, carousel, and light show. Franklin Square has a free outdoor light show, holiday fare, and Santa Saturdays. For an authentic German Christmas market, visit Christmas Village in LOVE Park. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest is lots of fun, too. Little Elmo fans can even see Santa, Rudolph, and the whole Sesame Street gang at Sesame Place. Who needs the Grinch when there's a Grouch?
Old Sturbridge Village is New England's largest outdoor living history museum, depicting a rural New England town in the 1830s. While a day trip here is fun year-round, the holidays are when it becomes magical.
Every December the village is filled with holiday decor and merriment, with "Christmas by Candlelight" evenings featuring storytelling, sleigh rides, and musical performances. Kids can learn the history of Christmas traditions, like knitting stockings and wreath making. Watch period re-enactors make a traditional Christmas meal, punch tin lanterns, and make ice skates or a sled. Stroll through the village and over the Wishing Bridge, and end the evening with a horse-drawn carriage ride and warming up by the bonfires.
RELATED: Best Christmas Cookie Recipes to Bake with Kids
Koziar's Christmas Village is a magical display of holiday lights. Photo courtesy of the village
What simply started as a man decorating his house for the holidays has spiraled into one of the most magical Christmas villages. Known for its impressive lights and decorations, the country estate features a toy shop, an old-time bakery, Santa visits, and more. After paying a modest admissions fee, families can walk the stroller-friendly paths around this old farmhouse to take in all the good-natured Christmas kitsch. Warm up with a chocolate chip cookie and a cup of cider. Koziar's Christmas Village is a pretty perfect holiday day trip for those living in the area.
The town of Cedarburg looks to be straight out of a Christmas card. Located about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, Cedarburg boasts quaint brick shops, covered bridges, cozy cafes, and charming historic buildings. The Cedarburg Christmas festival runs mid-November through Christmas. You’ll find Festive Friday Eves, a holiday art fair, Santa’s Workshop, seasonal entertainment, and cozy inns to call home for the weekend at this festive Christmas town.
RELATED: Visiting Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA with Kids: What to Know Before You Go
Theme parks like Busch Gardens simply glow during the holidays. Photo courtesy of Busch Gardens
Take in the charm of an old-fashioned Christmas with a family getaway to Colonial Williamsburg. All the Christmas festivities are scheduled, including shows, workshops, music, tours, and the newest tradition—the Lighting of the Cressets. Catch the Grand Illumination fireworks show that includes firing guns and musical performances and a special appearance by Father Christmas.
To extend the festivities and thrills, visit the nearby Busch Gardens Christmas Town. There, families can celebrate the season with holiday entertainment, roller coasters and rides, a Gingerbread Scavenger Hunt, sweet treats, and meeting Santa in his Workshop.
This is the display that USA Today calls the “Best Holiday Lights Display in the Nation.” The Mission Inn began as a small adobe boarding house in 1876 and grew into its present castle setting with a legendary holiday lighting display. Lights drape every available exterior surface and wind into the lobby. With enormous Nutcracker soldiers guarding the entrance, a life-size gingerbread house, Dickensian robots, light-up Cinderella carriage rides, and more, this is an experience that dazzles like Disneyland, but at a far more relaxing pace. End your evening with Casey’s Cupcakes, which became nationally famous when Casey won Cupcake Wars.
Read our detailed review of a visit to Riverside's Legendary Holiday Lights Display.
Santa rides into Silver Dollar City for a magical Christmas. Photo courtesy of Branson's Convention and Visitor Center
Missouri might not seem like a December vacation destination, but the whole family will enjoy Silver Dollar City. In addition to repeatedly being named one of the top amusement parks in the nation, this 1880s theme park rocks the holidays. Its seasonal "Old Time Christmas" has more activities than ever, with a nightly parade of lights, a holiday sing-along steam train, and loads of holiday entertainment, including over 30 shows. The whole park is bedecked in millions of holiday lights, and the 80-foot Christmas tree—dazzling with dancing lights—towers over everything.
People typically head to Mystic for its quintessential New England charm, but the holiday season really ups the ante on its appeal. For one, there’s the beloved Holiday Lighted Boat Parade, which begins with a tree lighting and ends with Santa arriving by tugboat and patrons gathering to admire the festively decorated boats. Christmas in Mystic wouldn’t be complete without a holiday stroll through Olde Mistick Village, where lights adorn more than 40 shops and restaurants. The village itself turns into a spectacular Christmas town during its annual Festival of Lights, which includes live entertainment and delicious treats.
RELATED: 25 Christmas Jokes for Kids and Holiday Riddles
Peddler's Village is a winter wonderland under a million lights! Photo courtesy of Peddler's Village
This year-round indoor and outdoor marketplace in New Hope, Pennsylvania, turns itself into a classic Christmas market with millions of holiday lights twinkling throughout the village. Kids can meet Santa, ride a 1920s carousel, and marvel at the magnificent display of gingerbread houses. You can even catch a Christmas train ride in New Hope and in neighboring towns. Stay a long weekend to soak up all the things to do in Bucks County.
The opulent mansions of Newport were originally built as summer homes in the 1850s to early 1900s, and now people from all over come to admire their magnificence. Around the holidays, that’s made even more apparent as the Breakers, Marble House and the Elms turn into a magical outdoor wonderland, featuring a 15-foot poinsettia tree and other festive touches. Additionally, the city’s Sparkling Lights event features lit-up paths and spruce trees all while your favorite holiday tunes play in the background. Last but not least, the Bowen’s Wharf Annual Christmas Tree Lighting always commences the holiday season.
RELATED: A Charlie Brown Christmas and More Kids' Holiday Movies to Watch this Holiday Season
Enjoy a snowy Texas holiday at Santa's Wonderland. Photo courtesy of Santa's Wonderland
If you’re looking for snow in Texas, you’ll find it here. There’s a nightly snowfall, a snow playground, and snow tubing. Take a horse and carriage or hayride to view an impressive light display. Afterward, visit Santa, sit by a fire pit (hot dogs and s'mores are available for purchase), and enjoy live music. Other attractions at this Christmas town include a trackless train ride, pony rides, a petting zoo, a Texas-sized gingerbread village, a life-sized snow globe, a walkable trail of lights, a live Nativity, a giant outdoor ice skating rink, and lots more. Plenty of shopping and food are also available, and it makes for a lovely day trip from the Houston area.
Although it's open year-round, this LA-area Santa's Village has what one of our writers declared to be "the best Santa ever." Set up as a winter wonderland in the San Bernardino forest, Skypark at Santa's Village offers non-holiday outdoor adventures such as a bike park, bouldering, a zip line, and a playground. But from mid-November through January, Santa and his elves put on a special "nostalgic Christmas" complete with one-on-one wish taking, breakfast with Santa, ice skating, cookie decorating, a holiday lights display, a train ride, mining for "good luck" gold coins, and more. Don't forget to explore Santa's Workshop and maybe even mail a letter to the jolly guy.
RELATED: Best Family Resorts That Will Sell Out for the Holidays - So, Book Now!
The holiday parade goes through Middleburg's historic downtown. Photo courtesy of Salamander Resort
A trip to Middleburg feels like A Christmas Carol come to life. Middleburg’s historic downtown is dotted with antique street lamps and twinkling lights, and Federal-style buildings are decked with antique wooden Christmas ornaments. While the famous holiday parade is a family favorite, don't forget to stop by and check out special events and activities throughout the season. If you need a Christmas tree (and even if you don’t) a visit to the picturesque Snickers Gap Tree Farm is in order, and if you can’t bring yourself to leave, the Salamander Resort is a festive place to spend the night.
They don’t call Taunton "The Christmas City” for nothing: This Christmas town takes its decorations seriously and lights up in an extraordinary way around the holidays. Head to the annual Lights On Festival, where you can admire a truly magical holiday light display on the historic Taunton Green, plus live music, fireworks, and other fun activities for the little ones.
RELATED: LEGO, Harry Potter, and More Awesome Advent Calendars for Kids and Parents, Too!
Wassail Weekend transforms Woodstock into a festive Christmas town. Photo courtesy of the event
Though it’s a charming town year-round, Woodstock is a highly popular destination during the holidays, when it transforms into an idyllic Christmas town. Wassail Weekend is a most talked-about event, where families can watch demonstrations of traditions like holiday cooking and candle dipping, listen to holiday tales, and more. And what would the weekend be without a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh ride? Plus, Woodstock Town Hall Theatre hosts an annual Cookies with Santa event.
When looking for a Christmas town, you can't find one more iconic than the town named after the big man himself. Santa Claus, Indiana is home to a year-round Christmas town. In the three weeks leading up to Christmas, the town kicks off its yearly Santa Claus Christmas Celebration. In addition to a 22-foot Santa statue, you’ll also find over 15 other statues of Mr. Claus. Santa Claus is also home to the iconic Santa’s Candy Castle, countless gift shops and bakeries, a drive-thru LED Christmas light display, and more.
Manistee is an idyllic Christmas town in Northwest Michigan. This old-world town features adorable brick storefronts, brightly lit Christmas trees, and an impressive Christmas festival that takes place the first weekend in December every year. Manistee’s Victorian Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend boasts over 10,000 visitors from all over the country. You’ll find a parade of Belgian Draft sleigh horses, carolers in period costumes, Christmas concerts, holiday cookies, a Jingle Bell 5K, carriage rides, and more.
RELATED: How to Make Hot Chocolate Bombs in 5 Easy Steps
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow in Leavenworth, Washington. Photo courtesy of Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce
One of our editors said this was her first experience with a Christmas village as a kid, and it remains her favorite. Every year from Thanksgiving to February, this enchanting Bavarian village transforms into a living Christmas snow globe. The streets and buildings are decorated with over half a million lights, and the evenings are packed with kids’ activities, strolling holiday characters, Santa, gingerbread houses on display, and lots more. Sleigh rides dash families through the snow, and no holiday visit would be complete without a visit to the Nutcracker Museum and the Gingerbread Factory.
The Berkshires-area town of Stockbridge creates a throwback classic New England Christmas fete every early December. Expect caroling children, twinkling lights down Main Street, a holiday concert, Santa visits, tours of historic homes, and even antique cars for an authentic feel. The pinnacle event celebrates the town as it was when Norman Rockwell painted its main street during the holidays beginning in 1956. Holiday events continue throughout the long weekend and includes a fair at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Don't miss the Winterlights at Naumkeag, a stunning display of outdoor holiday lights.
Jefferson may be a small town, but it comes alive each year with its iconic Santa’s Village, a Christmas-themed park and one of the most fa-la-la-la-fun places to visit during the holidays. Kids can feed real reindeer at Reindeer Rendezvous or head over to Elf University for a unique elf scavenger hunt. The fun continues with all kinds of age-appropriate themed rides, from the Reindeer Carousel to Santa’s Express Train, the Skyway Sleigh, and more. End the trip with a visit to Santa’s Home, where Mr. Claus lounges in his rocking chair, ready to hear which gifts children wish for the most this year.
RELATED: Easy Handmade Thumbprint Holiday Cards Kids Craft
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is a holiday parade on water. Photo courtesy of the parade
Looking for something a little less traditional? Celebrate the season in Southern California with lights on the water and a festive mini cruise. Newport Harbor lights up with sailing vessels of all types, from kayaks to yachts, during the annual Newport Beach Boat Parade. Residents also deck out the shoreline with top-notch lights, casting a holiday glow across the water. Catch the parade from the deck of a boat on one of the many cruises offered, or stake out a spot on shore to watch the flotilla pass by. Kids can burn energy on a nautical-themed playground at the half-acre Marina Park, and there are fireworks on opening and closing nights.
For 40 years, the Troy Victorian Stroll has been a holiday tradition that transforms the streets of historic downtown Troy into a Christmas town of the bygone Victorian era. Locals get gussied up in Dickensian apparel and join in the concerts, street performances, and other events. Be sure to play Stroll Bingo while you’re in town. Squares include, “I voted in the window decorating contest,” “I found saxophone Santa,” and many more. Expect to find shopping and dining specials throughout downtown all month long.
Though it’s known as a summer travel destination, Kennebunkport turns into a winter wonderland come Christmastime. Combine coastal charm with holiday merriment with a seaside visit to the annual Christmas Prelude, where bright lights, bows, and boughs turn the city into a sparkling Christmas town. Enjoy a tree lighting in Dock Square, take an enchanted sleigh ride, hum along with carolers to your favorite Christmas tunes, and help the kids make festive crafts. And in the biggest event of all, Santa ditches his sleigh for a lobster boat, making his grand entrance by water.
An earlier version of this article was first published in 2018. Additional reporting by Ally Noel and Lauren LaRoche